The Labour Party candidate for Whitehaven & Workington held a public meeting last week raising his concerns about the future of our A&E department at West Cumberland Hospital. We have been in contact directly with Mr MacAlister and we have shared our clear position with him and with the local media. We are committed to maintaining a full A&E service at WCH.

Here is a copy of Lyn Simpson, Chief Executive's reply in full:

Dear Josh

Thank you for your letter dated 8 August 2023.

Firstly I would like to assure you that we are committed to maintaining a full A&E service at the West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) and there is no intention to close the department. 

We recognise that the people of west Cumbria need access to safe emergency care and we are working very hard to maintain services in the face of potential temporary staffing shortages. The good news is that we have recently successfully recruited two more permanent consultants to our A&E team – one has recently joined us and the other will join us in September.  While we do still have some gaps, which we cover with agency locum and bank doctors, we are in the best position we have been in for some time. In the longer term, we have strategies to train more clinical staff to a higher level in line with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s medical workforce guidelines for small and rural emergency departments.  We also attend recruitment fairs having recently been in both London and Glasgow.

However, it is true to say that recruiting middle and senior emergency clinicians to work in west Cumbria is challenging, which means at times our workforce is stretched. As you would expect, we have business continuity plans in place for this and a range of scenarios across the Trust to enable us to continue to provide safe services for patients at all times. The A&E business continuity plan for WCH was developed with our clinical teams last year to ensure we can continue to provide a safe service in the department should a staffing issue arise with regard to middle grade doctors covering the overnight rota. To date, we have not needed to enact this plan, however should we need to do so, we would proactively inform our partners and the public and explain what this would mean in practical terms.

The plan details the contingency arrangements for the overnight rota. If the plan was implemented, the A&E department would remain open at all times and if someone walked into the department between those hours, they would be assessed and a decision made about the best course of action for their safe care or treatment. This may involve being directly referred to another department at WCH, or being transferred to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle (CIC). For someone arriving via ambulance, our colleagues at North West Ambulance Service have been involved in the continuity plans and we would discuss the best course of action on a case-by-case basis. There would be an on-call consultant who could be contacted in an emergency as well as on-call consultants for other areas as normal such as paediatrics and surgery. The department would also plan to increase senior nursing cover during those shifts. 

Our priority is to promote the organisation and area as a great place to live and work. Unfortunately misinformed campaigns which suggest that the department may be vulnerable and in danger of closing are very detrimental to our recruitment efforts. Instead, we would welcome your assistance in promoting the benefits of living and working in west Cumbria.

We look forward to welcoming you on a future visit to WCH or if you would like a meeting to discuss anything further, please get in touch. We have been approached by the Whitehaven News and ITV Border regarding the meeting being held tomorrow so in the interests of being open, we will send a copy of this letter to those news outlets.

Kind regards

Lyn Simpson

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